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Debate resumed from 10 May 1995, on motion by Mr Moore:

That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

MR STEFANIAK (Minister for Education and Training) (11.14): Mr Speaker, this Bill provides for, firstly, appeals by students against dismissal from a school on the grounds that the decision and/or the procedures prior to the decision to dismiss were unfair; and, secondly, similar rights of appeal for school students across the whole spectrum of government and non-government schools. The Department of Education and Training has prime responsibility for government school education. However, as Minister for Education and Training, I also have responsibility for registration of non-government schools.

The Government is satisfied that the current legislation with regard to public school education, together with departmental policies on management of student behaviour and on suspension and exclusion, adequately address concerns about the right to appeal. The Department of Education and Training has a comprehensive policy and mandatory procedures for school principals to follow in relation to suspension of students. The principal of a government school has no power to expel or permanently exclude a student. This power resides solely with the chief executive of the department. There is a comprehensive process outlined in the policy which must be followed. To my knowledge, there has not been an exclusion from the government school system in recent times.

The policy and mandatory procedures on suspension of students are transparent and responsive to the rights of students at every stage. It is important to remember why such a policy is necessary. In government schools, a short suspension of up to five days is the final stage in a comprehensive student welfare and management process. Suspension is to be used only as part of an educative and rehabilitative mechanism, not as an up-front punitive response; and this is how it is used. It is a time-out period where the offending student can take time to reflect on his or her behaviour and think about how they can move on through their schooling. Suspension is used only when the behaviour of a student seriously interferes with their education and, just as importantly, with the opportunity of other students to learn.

The mandatory procedures have many safeguards built into them which provide for natural justice and full accountability to the student in question, the student's parents, the school community and the education system as a whole. An external review process is entirely superfluous, particularly if it is a heavy-handed, expensive, legalistic tribunal, as will be the result if this Bill becomes law. Further, this legislation and these policies are founded on the basis of fairness and the expectations of a reasonable person with respect to perceptions of justice and a fair hearing.

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